TJ's good ole boy heads to retirement

Fraser Downs patrons are aware that all race horses have their birthday at the first of the year.

On Jan. 1 horses, no matter what day of the year they were actually born, age a year.

When harness horses reach their 15th birthday they face mandatory retirement from racing. (There can be a request made by an owner to have his or her horse race in its 15th year if it had shown continued and recent success on the track.)

One horse retired this week at Fraser Downs as the year changed -- Alpha Link, owned by Tim and Janet Jacobson.

Alpha Link, a U.S.-bred by Hunters Star out of Rowdy Yankee for James D. Grundy and James Bagatelos, would not be able to get an extension if one was requested -- which it was not. The bay gelding had trouble getting into the winner's enclosure -- but he didn't have trouble getting into people's hearts.

To say Alpha Link's racing longevity is a bit of a surprise is like saying Shaq O'Neal is a bit big.

What do we know of the good old boy's record?

He had four career victories, lifetime earnings of $36,070 and a lifetime mark of 2:02. However, records accessible to Trackmarks only show what has happened since July, 1996 so his total number of starts is unknown.

Since July 21, 1996 he has had 136 starts with two triumphs. He last won at Fraser Downs on October 12 of that year, covering the mile in 2:02.1. He last won -- period -- on August 3, 1997 at Sandown on the Island, powering over the mile in 2:02.1 as he won by -- get this -- six and a half lengths.

(It was the ninth race, a $2,500 claimer for non winners of $551 in the last five starts for a purse of $1,700. We'll let Tim get into the details shortly but it should be noted that Alpha Link was the second betting choice perhaps because he had been on a bit of a warm streak collecting cheques in six of eight races since the previous win at the Downs. And, he must have remembered the weather from his California days as it was a balmy 24 degrees in Sidney. Slick Lass finished second and Pocopockets third.)

(Also for trivia buffs, Ferguson Road won the eighth race and Package Tour the 10th that day).

Alpha Link obviously fired up TJ, as he is known to all, and Janet as it took 101 more races with no wins to say enough. Why so long?

"We talked about retiring him lots of times," Jacobson said with a big grin. "We really intended to retire him last year, we were getting tired of him finishing up the track. But he just kept racing."

There were little things that kept them all going.

He had raced hard every year they had him (since he was three). He had occasions, "He paced 58 flat once at Sacramento in finishing third."

And the clincher.

"He has been such a good old boy," TJ added. "He has been so easy to take care of. He is no trouble and so good in his stall." To say he has grown on the family is an understatement.

"I was walking through the paddock at Sacramento one day, I think it was after he had finished seventh for the fifth time in a row when his owner John McGregor asked me if I would be interested in leasing him. I yelled back, No, but how much would it take to buy him. He said $1500 and I said OK."

Now, they, including daughter Sydney who is two, love him.

"Janet wants to make him a riding horse and maybe show him. And Sydney has already been on his back."

And, about that race at Sandown.

"I knew Eddy (Hensley) had a horse from California and he was the big favourite (odds-on)," TJ explains. "So, I decided we would be leaving no matter what. I think we were first at the half by 12 lengths (it was eight) and won by six."

He also remembers that leaving was a good idea as Hensley's horse (Keep Mia Wake) made a break (three other starters also made a break in the confusion).

You have to love how horsemen never forget a win. No matter how far apart they are.

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